I generally go grocery shopping on Saturdays, and generally this is a pretty major non-event. I buy some things, I unpack some things, we can eat for a week. No biggie. But yesterday, my weekly shopping trip turned into an upsetting display of white privilege, racism, classism…probably some other “isms” of which I am unaware. And it is still bothering me.
Here’s a little background. I live in a pleasant suburb on the outskirts of a major metropolitan area–about a 20 minute drive from the downtown area. This city is noted for its extreme poverty and general level of decay. It is a city that until just about a month ago housed no major grocery store chains for its citizens to use. There are small “mom and pop” stores that typically charge higher rates, but no large discount chains. This is due to the high crime rates. As a result, the people who live in the city often patronize the grocery stores of the surrounding suburbs. This is a common occurrence in my town, and we typically see large extended families shopping in our stores. These families typically are using food stamps to pay for their food. This is par for the course and should not cause a problem for anyone working at these stores, or anyone patronizing these stores, because it is an EVERYDAY event.
Now, this is not a discussion about the pros and cons of welfare and food stamps. I do not care one iota about your political beliefs on this subject. Comments about it will not be approved. This is a discussion about common human decency and the way we treat our fellow man.
What happened Saturday was that I went to my local Meijer store. (For those of you out-of-state or in another country, Meijer is a major “box” type discount store similar to Wal-Mart. There is a full grocery store with clothing, household goods, a lawn and garden center, etc. It’s a great place for one-stop, inexpensive shopping.)
When I got in the checkout line, I was behind two women who had a very large order of food–two full carts. I came in toward the end of their transaction, and there seemed to be a lot of complications. The woman paying seemed to be attempting to use her WIC payments (Women Infants and Children program), and her “Bridge Card” (food stamps) to pay, and was going to pay the remainder of the bill with cash. Both of these government programs have requirements on the type of products that they can be used to buy, so the groceries were being sorted into piles. Some items were being declined and put into the “cash” pile.
Now we get to the bothersome part. These two women (African-Americans) were extremely polite throughout the whole thing. They were apologetic, accommodating, and kept reassuring the cashier that they would pay for the “declined” items with cash. The cashier (white) was unbelievably rude and disrespectful to them throughout the whole transaction. When something was declined, she tossed it rudely to the side (damaging some of the items in the process). She raised her voice on more than one occasion. She kept looking back at me (also white) and rolling her eyes, as if I was supposed to somehow sympathize with the way she was treating these women. She made several comments about how they were “making this nice lady behind you” wait. It was horrifying to watch. When everything was finally paid for, the women said they had never had this trouble before and might not be coming back to Meijer. The cashier said “good” under her breath. Once I came through, she again apologized to me for the wait.
What a horrible example of a double standard. I told her in no uncertain terms that I was not bothered at all by the wait and that the women had every right to make purchases with their Bridge Card. When I left the store, the two women were speaking to a manager. Thankfully, this woman was very polite to them and was appalled by the cashier’s behavior. I stopped and apologized to the women for the cashier’s treatment of them and told the manager that the cashier had been extremely rude, and then had been very polite to me. Again, though, I was left with the nagging feeling that my testimony was given greater weight than that of the two African-American women.
Why is this happening in 2013 America? Why are whites given more credence than African-Americans? Why are middle class people treated better than the poor? What in the world does it matter to this cashier HOW someone is paying for their groceries? I’m left with a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that I cannot get rid of.
And I’m more than a little ashamed of my race at the moment.